RPG Grind Time – Seven RPGs You May Have Missed This Year
It’s hard to believe another year is coming to a close, but in a little over a month, we begin anew. In any year with numerous releases, it’s easy to let good games pass you by, especially in the RPG genre. After all, RPGs are more demanding of your time, making it nearly impossible to play every single one. I find it important to look back and consider what might have gotten pushed aside in the onslaught of releases. This year had some standouts, such as Persona 5 and Horizon Zero Dawn. Even niche RPGs had their place, from Tales of Berseria to Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. And while Ys: VIII really impressed me, I recommend waiting for the patch that addresses localization issues hitting in early 2018, so you can play it without the awkward dialogue. The game is still fun despite the flawed localization, but if you’ve already waited this long to play it, you might as well experience it at its best. Also, if you haven't finished Persona 5 yet, get on that!
Divinity: Original Sin 2 (PC)
Divinity: Original Sin made a big impact and impressed us in spite of its flaws. The second game improves on just about every aspect of the original, making our own Dan Tack call it, “one of the greatest PC RPGs of all time” and “the true modern successor to the heralded Baldur’s Gate II.” Look, there’s a reason this turn-based RPG has already sold one million copies on PC alone. For those looking for a choice-heavy game where your decisions have real meaning, Divinity: Original Sin 2 scratches that itch wonderfully. Characters leave or stay in your party based on your decisions and your choices factor into the final encounter and ending. The journey never has a dull moment, thanks to the amount of freedom you have, whether it’s the people or places you interact with to how you solve problems. Don’t let this fantasy gem pass you by, especially if you’ve been looking for a modern take on the CRPGs of yesteryear. For more, you can read our review here.
Nier: Automata (PS4, PC)
This quirky, action/RPG launched close to big games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn, making it easy to get lost in the shuffle. If that’s the case, rectify that as soon as possible. The original Nier team and Platinum Games teamed up to create something special. While Nier: Automata has its flaws, it’s one of the more memorable RPGs I’ve played for how it all comes together. The game oozes creativity and makes you care about the world and its characters. It also has something very raw and real about it, making you ponder about life and its repetition, while you fight in a war of androids vs. robots on a devastated Earth. Javy Gwaltney put it wonderfully in a recent op-ed, “I want to see more games with Nier's courage when it comes to portraying suffering people as characters capable of both great power and being just as lost as the rest of us.” Yoko Taro is anything but ordinary, as are his games, and Nier: Automata is one a powerful and unique experience you shouldn’t neglect.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac)
Created by core members of the Darksiders team at Vigil Games, Battle Chasers: Nightwar pays homage to Final Fantasy in all its turn-based glory. The game is technically a spin-off of the WildStorm/Image Comics series Battle Chasers from the late '90s, but you don’t need that familiarity to enjoy what’s in store here as the combat and visuals are the main attractions. While the game can get grindy, it has the fun of strategizing in combat to keep it afloat, forcing you to decide between attacking immediately with weaker strikes or waiting longer to build up a more powerful attack using mana. Chaining characters’ special abilities for optimal damage also makes for some fun experimentation with your team. For more, you can read our review.
Golf Story (Switch)
We’ve been seeing RPGs and sports merge more and more these days, but who would have guessed that a small game like Golf Story would be one of the better games to hit this year? It gets the best of both worlds without overcommitting to either genre. In Golf Story, your main goal is to prove yourself as an up-and-comer who bonded with his father over the sport and can’t let the golfing bug go. Taking on missions to show off your golfing prowess is just flat-out fun, especially since the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. As Andrew Reiner wrote in his review, “Part of its charm is keeping you off kilter, forcing you to hit a 300-yard drive with pinpoint precision one second, then solve a murder mystery the next. A continual delight to play, Golf Story is a breath of fresh air for sports, and another fun story to follow for role-playing fanatics.”
South Park: The Fractured But Whole (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
The Fractured But Whole launched in October, a month packed with releases, such as Super Mario Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Turns out all these games were super great, but so is The Fractured But Whole. Changing up the combat to be a cross between grid and turn-based battles worked in its favor, and its humorous take on the superhero fad and rivalry between Marvel and DC is plenty of fun. The gameplay loop of using social media, collecting new materials for crafting, and finding new costumes for customization also keeps you invested. You should know by now if the humor, with plenty of fart jokes and social commentary, is for you. As Kyle Hilliard wrote in his review, “Every aspect is overloaded with both smart and immature jokes, the combat is an improvement, the game is bigger and longer, and the sneaky moments of sincerity make you recall the charm of childhood in surprising ways – just like the show.”
Pyre (PS4, PC, Mac)
I wrote about my love for Pyre and sadness that not more people talked about it in this column before, but in case you need a reminder: Pyre is a fantastic party-based sports RPG, especially in how it presents choices and makes you connect with characters. The latest effort from SuperGiant Games (the minds behind Bastion and Transistor) has you fighting for characters’ freedom from a hazardous wasteland in NBA Jam-style battles. You get to know and level-up a slew of unique personalities who all have their own perks and drawbacks. Deciding who to bring in battle is part of the fun alongside trying to determine who to free. Pyre is a unique game and memorable for how it fuses all its elements together to great effect. Matt Miller said it well in his review: “Pyre’s storytelling ambiance, narration, art, and music work in concert. This gives the experience a singular identity, and the mash-up of role-playing and sports gameplay cements that distinctiveness.”
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4)
While playing newer games is always fun, sometimes going back to an old classic can be just as satisfying, especially if you missed it the first time around. Final Fantasy XII’s real-time combat and MMO-style world made it stand out when it originally launched, this year The Zodiac Age turned heads for being a remaster done right. It retains the game’s essence while also making major improvements to the combat and progression. The smooth framerate and crisp visuals serve it well, but replacing the intimidating license board made all the difference. Now you choose from 12 smaller and more specialized job boards, eventually allowing each character to choose two of them. As Joe Juba wrote in his review, “The core content remains the same, but the changes in various systems add a new layer of discovery. This means old fans can still relive the journey, while new players (or those who had issues with old mechanics) don’t feel trapped in an outdated adventure.”
What are some RPGs you recommend that fans may have missed this year?